Sometimes you just have to have the right people over for dinner.
For the previously stumbling Texas Rangers, that meant a visit from the Padres last week proved to be a timely blessing. It meant that three days with the A’s turned into nothing but Ws.
Lo and behold, the Rangers are a baseball team again, instead of a local punchline. They have climbed from last place in the AL West to second. They stand one game from hitting the .500 mark — the reset button on what has been a disappointing season.
Was it just the timely visits from San Diego and Oakland?
Pretty much, it says here. But the Rangers that we saw in April probably would have lost at least four of the past six games, no matter who was in the other dugout.
“We knew that this offense would get going at some point,” manager Jeff Banister said after Sunday’s 6-4 victory completed a sweep of the Athletics.
Banister credited the hitting coaches for getting the lineup refocused on not chasing pitches and keeping the ball in the middle of the field.
But it’s been more than that. The pitching also was solid all week including, for the most part, the bullpen. And the fielding was steady and, as Sunday showed, at times spectacular.
“I think when you start playing good baseball, start doing things the right way, baseball always gives you a little smile,” said shortstop Elvis Andrus, who raised his average to .289 with three hits Sunday.
The biggest smile, frankly, has been from the schedule maker. Consider this — from April 27 until the first week of June, the Rangers will be playing only one team (Houston) that is currently more than one game over .500.
If they were ever going to climb out of the ditch they dug for themselves in April, this is when it has to be. The Astros have shown few signs of sliding back into the pack.
“Instead of worrying about our record so much, though, I think we’re more worried about the day-to-day process of it,” catcher Jonathan Lucroy corrected. “I’m not going to think about next week. I’m going to think about the next game we play.
“Everybody in here thinks the same way. We’re not going to contemplate stuff we can’t control.”
Lucroy admitted, however, that a rough stretch can dent the confidence of any team.
“It’s human nature,” said Lucroy, who’s raised his average from .211 to .263 in the last week. “When teams are struggling, human nature is we want to try to do more. We all do that.”
Somewhere in the last week, most of the Rangers’ lineup stopped trying to hit a six-run home run in every at-bat.
“Guys are just having good at-bats, working the starter and just trying to hit the ball hard somewhere,” the catcher said. “We’re not going up there and just giving up at-bats, trying to hit home runs.”
The refrain in the clubhouse hasn’t changed — “It’s a long season, we’ve only played 40 games, we’re not thinking about the Astros, etc., etc.”
But this was not a good baseball team through the season’s first five weeks. A wake-up call was critical. The Astros were on the verge of clinching the division by Father’s Day.
Suddenly, as Andrus put it, baseball smiled on the Texas Rangers.
It brought the Padres and Athletics to town. And the Rangers have eagerly answered the doorbell.
A victory Tuesday night over the Phillies would lift them to the .500 mark for the first time this season.
A do-over. Or so the Rangers have to hope.
Gil LeBreton: @gilebreton